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    Theatres of surgery: the cultural pre-history of the face transplant

    Biernoff, Suzannah (2018) Theatres of surgery: the cultural pre-history of the face transplant. Wellcome Open Research 3 , p. 54. ISSN 2398-502X.

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    The first facial transplant, using a donor’s nose, chin and mouth, was performed on Isabelle Dinoire in France in 2005, but the idea of removing or replacing the face – either with a mask, or with a living face – has been around for much longer. This article explores the cultural pre-history of face transplantation: its speculative existence in legend, literature and film before it became a medical possibility at the beginning of the twenty-first century. One of the questions posed here is: how (and for what purpose) do medical ‘firsts’ like Dinoire’s surgery acquire a history? The article begins by considering the uses of the past by transplant surgeons themselves, and by those who are concerned about the ethical or psychological implications of organ and face transplantation. Having considered these different investments in the past – one emphasising medical progress, the other highlighting enduring anxieties about medical experimentation – we turn to the first cinematic portrayal of face transplantation, in Georges Franju’s horror classic Les Yeux sans Visage (Eyes Without a Face, 1959). An exploration of Franju’s sources suggests a more complicated relationship between medical innovations and their cultural contexts and highlights the changing significance of the face as a site of medical and aesthetic intervention.


    Item Type: Article
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Face transplantation, organ transplantation, plastic surgery, disfigurement, Frankenstein, Georges Franju, Face/Off
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Suzannah Biernoff
    Date Deposited: 21 May 2018 12:58
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:42


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